In the Desert, We Wait for Spring, and Eat Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices

 

grand falls 1

 

Bryan and I drove out to Grand Falls the other day, down a long dirt road, to see the spring runoff flooding down the Little Colorado river and over the cliffs (as high as Niagara, or so they say around here).  I kept thinking about how our Ponderosa pine forest seems so complete when I’m in it (which is most of the time), but really, just on the other side of town is a transition zone between our high-elevation forest and the lower-elevation piñon pine and juniper, and the scrub-covered desert.

It’s getting warmer all over our varied section of the landscape, including the valley further south where most our local produce comes from.  We are not, however, California, and we are still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.

 

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In fact, as we drove, it seemed like the desert was waiting too, the little bushes looking soft and sun-bleached, flocking the hills.  Maybe the roar of muddy water will bring some green, a few desert flowers . . . but not yet.

 

grand falls 4

 

Fortunately, in the meantime, we still have squash.  Butternut squash was the first winter vegetable I fell in love with, since what’s not to love; the round, slightly sweet flavors, the vibrant orange color, and in this case, brightened up further for the coming spring with some new and unexpected spices and a tangy sauce.

I mentioned that we’ve cooked a LOT of recipes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi this winter, this is latest one; which I adapted to my tastes and what was in my pantry that day.  It was just perfect to make ahead and leave in a friend’s refrigerator while we gallivanted around the desert, ready and waiting for all of us to be hungry when we got back.

 

roasted butternut with sweet spices

 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices and Tangy Chile Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 5 as an appetizer

 

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Take two very small, or one medium-large butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for later.  Slice the squash 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick.  Lay out the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Take 1 Tablespoon of dried cardamom pods; break the green pods open, either with your fingers or by crushing them a bit in a mortar and pestle.  Discard the pods but keep all the seeds which are inside.  Crush the seeds until they are roughly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Add the ground cardamom to a small bowl with: 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 3 Tablespoons olive oil.  Stir this up and brush it all over the squash slices.

Sprinkle a little salt over the squash, and roast in the oven until the slices are tender but not mushy when stabbed with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the squash seeds from the stringy stuff they grow in, and put the seeds into the bowl with the leftover oil and spices, mix them around to coat.

For the sauce: stir together the juice of 1/2 lime, several heaping Tablespoons of crème fraîche (once you have it, you put it on everything) and some chopped fresh chile  – I used 1/2 of one large defrosted frozen roasted one from last fall (you can put those on everything too).  If dairy is not your thing, these would also be great with just a little chile or hot sauce, or maybe even a sweet and hot sauce . . .

 

roasted butternut sauce and seeds

 

When the squash is done, transfer it to a cutting board, or platter or bowl to serve, and put the seeds on the same baking sheet and roast them for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy.  You can serve them with the squash, or eat them as a road-trip snack.  The leftover spices are more subtle, but delicious with the toasted seed flavor.

To serve the squash, slide a small sharp knife around the outside of the slices, taking off just the peel.  If you run out of time, you can also serve them as they are and let the eaters peel their own.  This is good cold or room temp, with a little sauce drizzled over the top.

 

So, what are you eating?  Is it spring yet where you are?

 

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Body and Earth, Home Territory

 

I’m pleased to report we’re home at last!  At last – without a crazy amount to do, with all my beautiful supplies and tools right in front of me, in my studio, in the kitchen!  Bliss.  We got back late Wednesday night (the same day I took these pictures), and the last thing I did before falling asleep was read the last chapter of a really interesting book I’ve been working my way through, Body and Earth by Andrea Olsen.  It was the textbook to a class one of my cousins took at Middlebury College.  My aunt read it too, she kept talking about how much she liked it, and finally they let me borrow a copy.

To be honest, it starts off a little bit, umm, out in left field for me – talking about our evolutionary history and how that relates to the way our bodies move.  But, it moves on pretty quickly into more concrete territory, talking about body processes, earth systems, and ways we can affect both, in a really integrative way that I loved.  I have been working on posture and healthy ways to work with my body a lot lately, and there are a lot of exercises and ideas in this book that I found really interesting and helpful.  But as far as just things to think about, the end of the book may be the best part.  There are a few chapters about connections between earth, body and society, again talking about how everything is related rather than each part on its own.  There are a couple of quotes in this part that speak to what I’m trying to say here.

 

 

Our culture breeds dissatisfaction in order to sell products . . .  As we realize that we are sensual beings, living as part of a world that delights the senses, we can distance ourselves from the cultural baggage of dissatisfaction.  We need less, not more, to experience a full life.

 

 

As we commodify art and creativity, we see art as other and creativity as foreign, rather than familiar.  In the process, we risk losing access to our deepest visions and our intuitive resources.   Conversely, as we reclaim creativity, we engage the unknown on a daily basis and listen for truth.

 

 

We have grown accustomed to high-end art: perfect recordings, museum paintings, and multimillion-dollar films.  But creativity is personal.  As we participate in the process, we recognize that it is not just about observing, not just about buying and consuming, alienating ourselves from our own creativity.  It is about participating in the creative universe we live in.

 

 

It seemed fitting somehow that as I finished this book, we came back into the landscape of my childhood, the places I feel the most connected to.  When we started into the plains and mountains of southwest Colorado, I felt such a tug on my heart, it’s not just that this place is beautiful (spectacular this time of year as the leaves change), it’s that I love it and I feel rooted here.  The desert, so close and yet so different, I love it too, even though I hated it driving across it as a kid, it seemed so empty.  It still seems stark, but so open, so subtle, so much a part of my home.

 

 

Just the clouds are amazing.  I’ll be back soon with more on participating in our creative universe!